Home Port purchase gets 'no thanks' from Chilmark
Chilmark voters had two and a half hours worth of patience for the debate Monday evening over a proposal to buy the Home Port restaurant property in Menemsha for $2 million. But, when the question was called, they had no patience for the deal.
The selectmen had replaced their proposal to buy the restaurant, tear it down, and construct a park. Instead, they proposed by amendment that the town buy the property, and then the selectmen would bring to another town meeting both a park plan and a proposal to lease the business to another restaurateur. The voters could choose. That amendment passed 111-97.
But, when the question came to authorize the borrowing for the project - for either project, really - the lurking naysayers, knowing that the funding article required a two-thirds vote in favor, had their way, 129 no, 93 yes. The question on funding the purchase was decided by Australian ballot.
The selectmen amended the original warrant article, which had proposed only to use the restaurant property as a park with water access to Menemsha Creek, to include the possibility of a lease that would continue the current use of the property, though in new hands. As selectman J.B. Riggs Parker told the very large crowd of voters, it was a response on the part of the selectmen to what they heard from voters who were reluctant to see the restaurant business, a fixture for decades, extinguished. Mr. Parker argued that the price offered the town had improved, down from $3 million three years ago when an earlier proposal that the town buy the property was rejected.
Mr. Parker called it a good deal and emphasized that nothing would happen, once the property was owned by the town, until town meeting had acted on a plan for its use. As his fellow selectmen and other voters did, he said the key advantage to the town purchase is that the town would then control the property. Mr. Parker negotiated the deal for the town.
All three selectmen endorsed the town purchase. Selectman Frank Fenner thanked Home Port owner Will Holtham for offering the town the opportunity, and argued that town ownership could lead to some amelioration of the parking problem in Menemsha. Mr. Holtham has allowed the town to use his property for daytime and off-season parking, but on summer evenings, when the restaurant is open, parking and traffic congestion is nightmarish. To give the devil his due, Mr. Fenner said, "the sunset contributes." Because Mr. Fenner operates the Menemsha Galley, across from the Home Port, he did not participate in the negotiations with Mr. Holtham over the offer before the voters Monday.
Warren Doty, the third selectman, had opposed the purchase three years ago because the price was too high, he explained, but he described the $2 million price as "reasonable." Mr. Doty described himself as dedicated to the creation of additional water access to Menemsha Pond. Because the Home Port property exists as five lots - two on which the restaurant and parking exist, and three with frontage on Menemsha Creek, one of which has a dock - he argued that two of the waterfront lots, which would be included in the town's $2 million purchase, could be used for limited parking and kayak-canoe-skiff access to the creek. The third waterfront lot, the one with the dock, is not part of the deal and may be sold for more than $1 million to a non-Chilmarker looking for a dock for his boat.
Mr. Doty's enthusiasm for use of the waterfront for small boat access was countered by Rusty Walton, town conversation officer, who was skeptical that state officials would allow improvements for boat access to the marshland boundaries of the two lots. He added, referring to waterfront lots, whatever improvements might be allowed, and to the upland where the restaurant sits, "And if there's a hurricane, forget it, it'll be washed out with all the rest of Menemsha."